Adding a What's New Section to Your Website

Another website navigation improvement trick.


Adding a What's New Section to Your Website

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

If you look at thesitewizard.com, you will probably noticed that it has a "What's New" section on its main page. In fact, if you were to visit my other 2 sites, thefreecountry.com and HowToHaven.com, you will find that they too have a "What's New" column on their main page.

The story is that when I first experimented with such a section, I found that the traffic to the pages highlighted increased by quite a large number. Apparently, even though I already had links to those sub-pages from my main page, highlighting them in this way actually increased their visibility, thus attracting the attention of my visitors.

This does not mean that the number of unique visitors to your site increases. The people seeing the "What's New" sections were already on my site. If you want to get more visitors, you will need to advertise outside your site. This device is not meant to do that. It only helps your existing visitors find interesting new stuff that they may not have been aware was present on your site before. In other words, it is essentially a facility that improves your intra-site navigation.

Who Should Include One?

A "What's New" section is particularly useful if your site has the following characteristics:

  1. Content is constantly being added or changing.
  2. Your site has a large number of pages.

If your site only has a main page with a "Feedback Form" and a "Reciprocal Links" for your sub-pages (or pages like that), a "What's New" section is probably meaningless for you.

What If My Content Doesn't Change Often?

Even if your site's content does not change frequently, you still can have a section that highlights certain sub-pages on your site. You should not however, call it a "What's New" section. If you do, your visitors will quickly notice that nothing new ever graces that section and think that your site is abandoned.

Instead, you can always call it a "Featured Pages" section, where you highlight certain pages on your site. You should of course link to those pages (and not merely mention them).

Is It Okay To Simply Have A Separate What's New Page?

In the early days of thefreecountry.com, I only had a separate page listing all the changes on the site. I called it my "What's New" page, and linked to it from the home page. Although the content of that page changed frequently (since the site is regularly being updated), I noticed that there was one constant throughout its history: the small number of visitors reading it (relative to the overall site).

The basic rule of web design holds true here: if visitors have to click to get somewhere to read your What's New announcements, you will lose a percentage of your visitors since many will not bother to click the link.

As always, if you want something to be noticed by your visitors, put it under their noses. Put it on your front page. You don't need to put everything on the front page; just the latest news. You can always link to your more comprehensive "What's New" page at the bottom for those who are really interested.

What Should I Write?

It's really up to you. The important thing here is that even as you mention the changes, make sure you actually link to the changed/new page. Don't expect your visitors to have to search through your entire site to find the page you mentioned. In times of old, I have encountered a number of sites with that kind of "What's New" section. Those sites are really not using their news column to its full potential. It doesn't merely have to be informational; it can serve as a means to draw your visitors to the new content.

Conclusion

Now it's true that if you want to maintain both a "What's New" section on your main page and a "What's New" page, it's a big hassle to have to keep both in sync. One way around it is to use server side includes (SSI) and put the content in a separate file that is included in both pages. In my opinion, whatever the method used, the results make it worth the effort. Your visitors appreciate that section because it helps them keep abreast of changes, and you benefit because those pages get highlighted to your visitors.

Copyright 2000-2014 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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